Game 66: NYY vs. OAK — The game that wouldn’t end

Today was the 12th time in Yankee history that they played into the 18th inning, and today they played 5 hours and 35 minutes before the A’s won it in the bottom of the 18th with an RBI single. Basically, it was like a very long doubleheader, where both teams used up their bullpens (save Chamberlain who pitched last night).

Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda actually had a pretty decent outing, throwing 8 full innings, allowing 2 hits and 2 runs. Both runs were scored in the 3rd inning, one on a ground out and one on a nice right field double. Kuroda was replaced by Robertson, Logan, Kelley, Warren (for 6 full strong innings), Claiborne (who took the loss, as it was his runner that scored to win the game off his replacement), and then Rivera (who failed to make a single out to stop Oakland from winning).

The Athletics scored their final run over 5 hours before the first run of the game was scored. It was Robinson Cano’s 2-run home run back in the 1st inning that planted the Yankees at 2-0, later tied 2-2 for 15 innings (18th – 3rd, when A’s scored).

Part of the reason the Yankees lost was a questionable call at home in the 3rd inning, due to Chris Stewart’s placement of the ball in his glove when he tagged the runner coming home; it was ultimately decided he didn’t have it in his glove and thus the runner was safe. But Stewart made up for the error by a really fantastic block of a runner; assisted by a long, strong throw by Left Fielder Vernon Wells, Stewart stood his ground and kept a walk-off from occurring within his reach in the 15th inning. This was really the play of the day, and an excellent example of the great defense we have behind the plate.

I cannot remember the last time I watched a game this long, with consecutive play and no weather or other major delays. I mean, we’ve been dealing with weather delays a lot this year, more than usual it seems. I think this is a fun coincidence since I was reading an article about people who complain about how long baseball games are. The average professional football game is 3:06, basketball is 2:30, hockey is 3:05, and baseball is 2:57. That’s right, baseball is actually shorter than an average hockey or football game, but there are no half-time shows or cheerleaders or entertainment (short of rating the singers of the national anthem and “God Bless America”). So the crowd boos when “time takers” occur like pick-offs at 1st base or coaching visits to the mound or the batter stepping in and out of the box multiple times. But they don’t boo when the football coach calls for his 500th time out in double overtime. It’s the same time consumer, so what’s the difference? Entertainment? That’s why some stadiums have silly hot dog (or fish or dead president or condiments or subway trains or Pepsi bottles) races or shoot shirts and softballs into the crowd or other “entertaining” (and marketing) shows during this “down time” (or the commercial break, if you’re watching for home).

But I’m one of those people who think that if it takes longer to play the game, it just makes my ticket more valuable. Think about it. Technically, you’ve rented those seats for a 24-hour period, so the longer you use them, the more you get out of them, thus making your money go further. Say you bought a $50 ticket to today’s game, and they played 18 innings, which should have cost you $100 (for two games), but you got a full game for free just by staying in your seat for the full game.

So I’m going to say now: I really hate it when people get up and leave before the game ends (short of an emergency or family issue, which I totally support — family comes first, always). But as Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.” And Oakland fans that stayed the full 5 1/2 hours got a treat today by seeing their team win in such a late fashion. But it really could have just as easily been the Yankees — you just never know until it’s over.

Also, what will seem like great news for Yankee fans is that Derek Jeter is officially healing and has been cleared for to begin running and resuming baseball activity, which will happen in gradual increase over the next few weeks. This doesn’t set a clear-cut timetable for his return, but it does give those who doubted a promise that he will return. Much like Rivera did last year, there’s no way Jeter is going out limping. I should be clear that Jeter isn’t anywhere near retirement. Though people seem to get a kick out of his age (the number will be increasing in a couple of weeks), he will be the last of the Core Four to hit 40, and with Pettitte and Rivera still pitching strong into their 40’s, I don’t see any reason to think Jeter (with proper rehab and careful timing) can’t come back and play well into his 40’s as well. After all, they’re from a different generation of players, Yankee lifers who excelled under Torre’s guidance and helped reinvent Yankee baseball (and much of baseball itself). Keep healing, keep strong, and we’ll see you when we see you — probably in that crucial time to which you’ve been dubbed — the “Clutch”.

Go Yankees!

Game 65: NYY vs. OAK — Looking at the future

Tonight’s first pitch was thrown out by a robotic device, operated by a kid in Kansas City but the ball crossed the plate in Oakland. There has been a lot of talk about adding more technology to the game, so I guess this is a nod to what can be done today and a hope for innovations in the near future. The kid is currently undergoing treatment at a Kansas City children’s hospital for a rare blood disorder. (The ESPN story is here.)

The Yankees could have used a more consistent robotic pitching mechanism as starting pitcher Phil Hughes wasn’t really on his game tonight. His 95 pitches took him only through 4.1 innings, allowing 4 hits and a season high 5 walks. He also allowed 3 runs, one of which was a 2-run home run (by the same player who would later get a solo homer off Joba Chamberlain in the 8th inning). After allowing an RBI double in the 5th, Hughes was replaced by rookie Shawn Kelley who kept the A’s scoreless for his 1.2 innings. Logan pitched his .1 inning in the 7th before being replaced by Chamberlain who went 1.1 innings, allowing that solo homer and an RBI single. He was promptly replaced by rookie Claiborne who walked his first batter and then got the last out. The Hughes-Chamberlain combination tallied 5 runs for the Athletics, something the Yankees offense couldn’t overcome.

The A’s starting pitcher had better luck fending off the Yankees. In the 6th inning, Mark Teixeira knocked Brett Gardner in for a sacrifice fly to put the Yankees on the board. And in the 7th inning, Jayson Nix singled in Youkilis for their 2 total runs that the Yankees would score all evening.

But it was the Yankee defense that kept Oakland from running up the tally on the scoreboard, with two very good sliding catches by Ichiro Suzuki in the 5th and in the 6th, both off the same batter. Ichiro will probably enter Cooperstown as a Mariner, having spent 11 seasons there, but I think most Yankee fans will follow that old mantra of “once a Yankee…”. And to me, Ichiro will always be a Yankee.

In other “future” news, the Yankees signed contracts with 13 of their draft picks, including their first pick Eric Jagielo, whose stellar performance at Notre Dame earned him the 26th overall selection and $1,839,400 in signing bonuses. Other “new Yankees” include Tyler Wade, David Palladino, John Murphy, Philip Walby, Cale Coshow, Caleb Smith, Jordan Barnes, Derek Toadvine, Sam Agnew-Wieland, Trent Garrison, Kevin Cornelius, and Hector Crespo. (More on Jagielo and today’s signings here.)

And I guess that’s what these games force fans to do — look toward the future. You can’t change the past; and you have to power to affect things today for what is to come in the future. So we never know how a draft pick will turn out or even if they will ever make it to the majors or if they will be worth the investment. But that’s what’s fun about following the draft. You never know when we find the next Thurman Munson, Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, or Josh Hamilton (all first round draft picks). And at this point, who knows who will become a household name and who will become “that guy who used to play baseball”. Best of luck to all the draftees, whether they signed or passed (usually to go to college, like Josh Pettitte chose to do), or at least passed for now. The future is yours for the taking and the making; so (like Doc Brown says in a movie before most of you were born) “make it a good one!”

Go Yankees!

Game 64: NYY vs. OAK — Not quite the All-Star performance tonight

There was a big deal made about starting pitcher CC Sabathia’s “return home” because he grew up not far away from Oakland and was an Oakland fan growing up. I guess it was because there wasn’t much else to talk about leading up to the series in the Bay Area. Sabathia had a rough start though, getting only 3 strike outs, allowing 8 of the Athletics’ 9 hits and all 6 of their runs in tonight’s loss. A 2nd pitch solo home run in the 1st inning pretty much set the stage for the night, followed by an RBI double in the 2nd, and the A’s had a 2-0 lead quickly.

Their big dent came in the 4th inning with a 3-run home run deep to left-center field. And the proof of Sabathia’s off-night came in his last inning (the 6th) when he walked a batter on a wild pitch and the runner at 3rd easily scored the A’s 6th and final run of the night. Claiborne and Chamberlain kept the A’s scoreless for the rest of the game.

The Yankees racked up the hits off Oakland’s starter and bullpen, getting 10 solid hits through the whole 9 innings. The A’s starter wasn’t exactly at his best either, but the Yankees couldn’t seem to bring enough effort to score until the last two innings. In the 8th inning, 3 straight singles by Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira ended up scoring a run (Gardner on Teixeira’s single) before any outs were made in the inning. Then 3 batters later, it was pinch hitter Vernon Wells’ single that hit in Cano who was waiting through two outs at 3rd to make the score 6-2 A’s.

In the next inning, the Yankees’ last attempt for the win, a single by Chris Stewart (who continues to prove his value on the team) and a double by Cano set up Teixeira for a 2-RBI single to plant the final score at 6-4 Oakland. It was that 3-run homer by Oakland that really lost the game for the Yankees, as proved by this last minute rally.

It was just “one of those games”. But in other news, Cano was named AL Home Run Derby Captain again for the upcoming event at the All-Star game next month. While he most definitely won’t have to face any angry, vengeful Midwesterners, he still gets tasked with selecting three other AL derby competitors, players who can hit long balls for a fun charity event the day before the All-Star Game. I voted for who I wanted him to pick for the Home Run Derby (they weren’t any other Yankees), and I’ve used up all my votes on the All-Star Game (yes, I voted all Yankees for the team).

And I look forward to see if Cano can put together yet another championship team; he excelled at last year’s selections picking the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place players in the 2012 HR Derby, with Detroit’s Prince Fielder coming in on top. Something tells me Cano’s going to have a whole lot more fun at this year’s event, and much of that is because this year’s All-Star events are taking place at Citi Field just over the river in Queens. It’s not quite home-field advantage, but it’s close enough for all the Yankee fans to cheer on their All-Stars and drown out all the negativity. And that’s my favorite kind of cheering.

Go Yankees!

Brett Gardner: AL Player of the Week

Brett Gardner was named AL Player of the Week because he average .520, going 13-for 25, with 5 doubles, a home run, and 6 RBIs in a single week. I think where he really found his stride was during the Cleveland games earlier in the week, where his offense started complementing his already stellar defense and really earned him something worthy of praise. But he’s also hit safely at least once in every game last week. As of this posting, he currently has a .284 average, the highest of the whole active roster. And he’s easily stolen 10 bases.

Apparently, for the award, Gardner beat out fellow teammates CC Sabathia who threw a complete game last Wednesday against Cleveland and Mariano Rivera who earned 4 saves (of his 2013 total 23) this week. Other contenders this week were Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Red Sox), David Ortiz (Red Sox), and Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics), who all had great offensive efforts for their respective teams.

It’s rather fun to see a player succeed, one who usually gets a bit overlooked in the New York lights, one who isn’t really known for his great offense, and one who hasn’t really quite carved that name for himself in the Yankee history books just yet. It’s easy to get caught up in the greats and the names and the legends at Yankee Stadium because they really do deserve the accolades and praise. Each one worked hard to get just the chance to do something like they are known for, and each one put in their dues to become something the papers and the fans and the front office talks about, raves about, even publicly celebrates.

Sure when I think of the Yankees, I think of the legends that have played in pinstripes, or those that current are legends in pinstripes (#42 anyone?). But I also think of those who diligently put in the effort everyday, on the field, off the field, during practice, in the clubhouse, out in the city, across the country as a Yankee representative. They make it possible for Rivera to come into 24 games (so far this season) and work hard for that save. Their running and sliding catches, their short singles and doubles, their quick jumps to catch a fly ball or tag a runner out are cheered on by thousands of fans everyday. And they are often a name for a short season, but such a valuable part of what makes a team, our team, a great team.

And because they’re the Yankees, they’re going to be clean-cut in appearance and in integrity. And if anyone has displayed all of those qualities for this last week, let alone for the whole season already, it’s Brett Gardner. So we thank you, #11, for being you — an integral, very necessary part of this storied franchise.

Go Yankees!

Game 63: NYY vs. SEA — A loss for the King, a win for the Empire

The Mariners may have a “King”, but the Yankees are the “Evil Empire” (yes, they trademarked that recently). And as always, the King cannot overtake the Empire, and the Seattle King couldn’t lead his team to the win. And thus, the Yankees also took the series in Seattle 3-of-4.

The game began slow for the Mariner’s ace Felix Hernandez (dubbed “King Felix” in Seattle) throwing 43 pitches threw 2 innings, 22 in the 1st inning loading the bases but stopping the Yankees from scoring and 21 in the 2nd allowing an RBI single from Brett Gardner scored Jayson Nix to make it 1-0 Yankees. But Hernandez kept the Yankees from scoring again through his 7 total innings, giving up 5 of the Yankees 7 hits.

On the other side of the field starting pitcher David Phelps also kept the Mariners away from doing much damage, only allowing Seattle batters one run, also on an RBI single in the 2nd inning. Phelps did a great job and kept them scoreless for the rest of his 6 innings, replaced by Logan, David Robertson, and Rivera, helping Phelps keep Seattle with a line of zeros across the scoreboard.

Neither of tonight’s starting pitchers would earn a win-loss statistics on their record because of a 9th inning last-ditch effort by the Yankees. (Robertson would notch the win for today’s game, and Rivera his 23rd save of 2013.) A lead-off walk to Ichiro Suzuki (still loved in Seattle after 11 seasons there), Nix’s sacrifice bunt advanced Ichiro to scoring position where he did just that on Chris Stewart’s single on a rather off-target throw to home from the outfield. This made the final score 2-1 Yankees.

Actually, it was rather fun to watch this game, especially toward the end. I love nail-biter games, complete with great nail-biting plays, like Mark Teixeira’s rather spectacular double play in the 9th inning. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, and really freaks out the other people in Starbucks who don’t know you’re watching a baseball game on your computer (with headphones) so find your sudden outburst of joy really rude and intrusive to their incessant coffee-sipping and computer-typing. Not that most of the people nearby were Yankees fans (or baseball fans, for that matter) and would have understood my excitement. But I think that’s what makes enjoying a game, no matter where you are, kind of fun — you have the responsibility as fans to celebrate when your team does something wonderful and feel bummed when they don’t succeed. Sorry, people at Starbucks, but a fan is a fan no matter where they are.

Go Yankees!

Game 62: NYY vs. SEA — It’s a Pettitte kind of day

Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte has two things to be happy about this Saturday. The first (and clearly the lesser one) is today’s win over the Seattle Mariners. In what quickly became a really excellent outing, Pettitte threw only 85 pitches over 7.1 innings, allowing the Mariners only 3 hits and a run (a sacrifice fly in the 4th inning), striking out 6 batters. Robertson finished the 8th inning for Pettitte, and Rivera threw his 17 pitches to earn his 22nd save of the season.

Not that the Yankee offense was that stellar, but it was enough of a push to give Pettitte his 5th win of the season. In the first inning, Mark Teixeira (DH-ing today) doubled on two outs and scored the first run on Robinson Cano’s single. Jayson Nix came through in the 5th inning to knock in an RBI single and then did it again in the 7th to put the final score at 3-1 Yankees. Nix is on his way to making his own mark and name with the Yankees. Actually, the Yankees in total notched 10 hits off the Mariners’ pitching staff today, with Brett Gardner leading the pack, going 3-for-5 today.

In other Pettitte news, for the 37th round of the draft, the Yankees selected Josh Pettitte, Andy’s oldest son. (Like I inferred above, this would be the prouder moment for Andy today.) But like many of the recent high school graduates selected in the draft, Josh opted to go to college instead (Baylor, in his home state of Texas) and wait for another MLB call another year.

I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen from a Pettitte in pinstripes, but perhaps he wanted to be the only Pettitte on the team, giving dad some time to retire and son some time to develop and hone his skills in college ball. It also gives his family time to focus on one pro-ball player at a time.

Either way, I’m certainly glad to see the legacy of the Core Four continue. Mariano Rivera’s son, Mariano Rivera Jr., is now pitching for Iona College in New Rochelle, New York. Jorge Posada’s son, Jorge Luis Posada, will be 14 this year, so we have a some time to see how he develops. And the final member of the Core Four has yet to begin his genetic line, so we have a whole lot more time to see what will become of  the Jeter family legacy. Any way you look at it, all four are legacies in their own right, and I think it’s very cool that the next generation continues to carry on, much like fathers and sons have done for millennia. It’s only right in a family oriented sport where one generation passes on team loyalties and memories of bleacher times with the next generation, that the Yankees continue their legacy and put a new twist on the old pinstripes, digging in their own names and legacies and legends yet to be made and yet to be determined.

Go Yankees!

Game 61: NYY vs. SEA — Losing in the 4th inning

Taking a page from the Yankees playbook of late, the Seattle Mariners used a single inning to rack up their runs and spent the rest of the game defending that lead. Outside of the 4th inning, Hiroki Kuroda threw 110 pitches into the 7th inning, allowing 8 hits, all 4 of Seattle’s runs, walking 3, and striking out 6 batters. Kuroda wasn’t his usual spot-on self, but then he wasn’t terrible either. In that 4th inning, he got 2 back-to-back outs before allowing a ground-rule double and 2 walks to load the bases; a right field single knocked in 2 of the runners; a sloppy single loaded the bases again; a single to left field knocked in 2 more runners, before the last out was finally made. And very quickly, the Mariners had 4 runs.

The Yankees scored first and only one run in the 1st inning. Brett Gardner doubled right off the bat, and later in the inning, Travis Hafner hit a sacrifice ground out to score Gardner. So after the 4th inning, the score stayed 4-1 Seattle for the next 5 innings. Rather uneventful for a loss, and honestly, it wouldn’t have been that exciting of a win, had I been rooting for the Mariners.

In draft news, the Yankees have selected the following players for the first 10 rounds: Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, Gosuke Katoh, Michael O’Neill (nephew of former Yankee Paul O’Neill), Tyler Wade, David Palladino, John Murphy, Nick Rumbelow, Brandon Thomas, Conner Kendrick, and Tyler Webb. There is one more day of draft picks for the next 30 rounds, which means the Yankees get 30 more selections. Some of these picks have been selected in previous drafts to other teams, but opted to go to college instead. The Yankees have seen what playing college ball has done to improve its stars, as many of its players played in college before being drafted by MLB — Granderson, Teixeira, Robertson, Gardner, and former Yankee Swisher were all picked up during or right out of college.

And Ichiro Suzuki is climbing the hits charts. On the MLB official stats, he has 2,656 hits, having just passed Red Sox power hitter Ted Williams on the all-time hit list. But if you factor in his hits from his time professionally in Japan (1,278), he has 3,934 total hits in his professional career, or 66 hits from 4,000. This should easily be accomplished before the end of the season, as there are 101 games left. No other active player in all of MLB has that many hits total, and only Ichiro’s teammates Alex Rodriguez (2,901) and Derek Jeter (3,304) have more official MLB hits than him.

What a history and standard of excellent playing the draft picks now get to be a part of. I imagine it would be an honor to be selected by any team in any round of the draft, but (short of family loyalty) I cannot imagine a better team to be selected by than the Yankees — to be asked to join that standard of excellence, that legacy and history of greatness, the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Maris, Berra, and more. Again, congratulations to all those selected.

Go Yankees!